Landmark labor law named for Alabama woman

posted on:
January 25, 2009

Wendi Lewis

Although she will never benefit from the new legislation expected to be signed into law tomorrow by President Barack Obama, Lilly Ledbetter of Jacksonville, Ala., is proud of the difference she’s making in the lives of other hard working folks. The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is the first significant legislation passed by the new Congress, will change the law regarding eligibility in filing for wage discrimination.

Ledbetter had worked for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Gadsden, Ala., for nearly 20 years when she discovered she was being paid less than her male colleagues in the same job, for the same work. She filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission in 1998 and was initially awarded more than $3 million in back pay and punitive damages by a jury. The amount was later reduced to $300,000 by the judge, and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn the verdict, saying Ledbetter was required to file suit within 180 days of the initial act of discrimination, even though she had not found out about the pay discrepancy until it had been going on for years. Ledbetter began a campaign to change the law, taking her fight to the U.S. Senate and spearheading the legislation that now bears her name.

The new Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will change the law, making each unfair paycheck an act of discrimination. As a result, each paycheck since the original occurrence of discrimination will be ruled a new unlawful employment practice that resets the statute of limitations. The bill will restrict back pay awards to two years.

The new law will not bring Ledbetter the benefits denied her by the Supreme Court, but the 70-year-old told the Birmingham News that she is just proud that her fight has given other workers a chance at justice. 

Lilly Ledbetter Case from Supreme Injustices:

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Equal Pay Hearing: Deborah Brake:

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